Future Focus

From what I have read about trauma recovery, the process can take a lifetime. The damage done over decades cannot be overwritten in a few years. I’m looking to the future with cautious hope. While a new year may not be a magical reset, I am reflecting on my priorities. I want to improve my writing, pursue better mental and physical health care, and continue to heal.

I need a new approach to writing. I generally sit down and start typing without anything in mind. Trying to stick to a specific topic, or starting with a title in mind, is too rigid and I can’t produce enough words. I can write endlessly if I’m free to write about nothing at all. This is lazy writing. I am not challenging myself to better master my only language.

Now that the move is finally over, I am taking steps once again to properly treat my mental illnesses and trauma. I may have uncertainties, but I remain radicalized to the deadliness of the system. Trying to take care of myself has been a fight, and the more I talk to people who’ve found good therapists and the right medications, the more I realize that I have not yet. Since I started seeking care, my housing and life has been so unstable, I’ve had to switch therapists many times. It took me a long time to realize how unhelpful the attempts to get me on track to recovery have been. I’ve only been seeking professional recovery for six years to deal with 22 years of complex trauma, and it is simply not enough to overwrite the damage done.

Someone dear to me has explained that grief turns from a fresh sting to a familiar ache over time. Healing has not been a clear process. I’m not even sure if I am healing, or if time just widens the gap between now and then. The charts say my depression and anxiety and C-PTSD haven’t changed much. I don’t claim to have figured it all out, but I am not optimistic about the world. This is because I look around and see so many people trapped with nowhere to turn.

The people who have power and resources are using it to deprive the rest of us of the basic means to live. People are dying from a failing housing system, a failing medical system, a failing economic system. This is apparently the best it’s ever been, and injustice is rampant. My brain tells me that everything is hopeless, and I can’t help but think that maybe depression and anxiety are proper reactions to the world as it is. I am just beginning to appreciate the fact that maybe my brain is lying to me because the chemicals aren’t working right.

I’m lucky to be able to have a few inexpensive surprises for my loved ones this season, along with the gifts you all have sent from the Amazon wish list. Soon we will celebrate something like Yule and eat something special and exchange these gifts. We don’t have the spare funds to decorate but it will be a festive time to appreciate winter and the safety of a place to shelter in through it. Thank you all for helping to make it possible.

Therapeutic Creativity

Image: a painting with a black background with an yellow/red/orange sun in the center, a maroon planet with a shiny green ring off to the upper right, below the arm of a galaxy illuminated with silver clusters of stars. Crossing from the middle of the left side to the top, there is a spiral of shiny blue and green intertwining. A blue planet lurks in a dark upper left corner, three moons surrounding it – the biggest moon, to its right, is gold, and two smaller moons are to its left, blue and silver. In the lower left corner are twin planets, the slightly larger one is gold and the slightly smaller one is a shiny green. Finally, in the lower right corner and swooshing across to the bottom-center of the painting is a wave of silver dot stars over dark blue swirls.

Today to procrastinate on writing my daily blog post, I’m updating my page about the themes I’ll be covering in my memoir. People online have been asking if I’m still writing it, and the short answer is I’m working on it very very slowly. The reason for this is that I’m quite young and haven’t put much time between myself and the events of that time yet, and it’s hard to write about trauma. I’ve been telling my Patreon patrons about this for some time: It can be counterproductive to recovery to continuously unpack the traumatic events.

I didn’t even realize my family was cult-like until I was 22 years old. I’m 28 now, and my book’s master document has…79,456 words. Not including the work-in-progress chapters, of which I’m working on two. It isn’t fully drafted. I expect that it will take at least a few more years before it’s physically in print. Memoirs take careful simmering, and I may not be ready to say what I need to say for a long time still. I’m not rushing, because some of the best memoirs of all time were not completed at a young age by their authors. I recently finished Boy, Roald Dahl’s memoir about his childhood, which he didn’t write until he was more than twice my age. (Thank you to the sponsor who sent the book!)

That’s why I’m engaging in three therapeutic things: writing fiction, writing shorter and less edited blog posts, and painting. This is giving me the space to reawaken my creativity instead of succumbing to writer’s block over a memoir that I may not be capable of finishing very quickly.

The painting is going well. I took an interest in painting when I was very young, but due to the number of younger siblings I had, nothing was safe from being destroyed by very small children and toddlers. One Christmas when I was six or seven, all my aunts and uncles got me art supplies. I received paints, giant paper, brushes, the works – each a gift that showed they saw my artistic ability and wanted to encourage it. As a final surprise, my grandfather revealed a wooden easel he’d built for me and painted navy blue and white. It was just my height, so I could easily reach. I picked up color schemes and learned how to mix primaries to get the colors I wanted for the next few weeks of winter. Then one day, my little sister poured my paints together until they turned a horrid brown color, and spread it all over the easel. I don’t remember the repercussions, just that I lost interest in painting. I returned to it about 6 months ago when I bought some canvases and a cheap set of acrylics. Now I’m working on painting every day with eagerness.

I won’t say much about writing fiction just yet because I want it to remain fun instead of obligatory, and so far it has been. I’ve been writing fiction with a companion, who has created a fantasy world, and I have built a character to play, and we email back and forth, adding to the story in small increments. I don’t know where this will lead as far as developing more fiction of my own, but if you’d like to see a story I wrote, I published this one a while back: The Legend of the Snow Fairies

Finally, short blog posts. I think I have enough here for today, and I can sign off. I’ll be back for small portions of nonfiction writing here on the blog as regularly as I can.

Public Gaslighting

Abusers don’t like being held accountable for their actions. One of the best ways to keep an abuser from holding power is to expose their true nature. This is what I set out to do in 2014, when I first revealed to the world that my parents had been emotionally, psychologically, and physically abusive toward myself and my fifteen brothers and sisters. Leading up to that point, our secrets were kept within the family. I broke the taboo because I had nothing left to lose after my parents said I couldn’t see my siblings anymore, using the children I’d raised as leverage against me.

This March, I had the opportunity to tell the whole story in Huffington Post Personal, in cooperation with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. A few weeks later, my dad began publishing a response defending his reputation and tearing down mine. I have spent the months since thinking about if I should respond, why it might matter to respond, and whether a response will heighten tensions. I concluded that I don’t owe anyone a response, nor do I owe anyone my silence. I will continue to tell the truth and work on telling my story to the best of my ability.

I don’t presume to know exactly what is going on inside my dad’s head. While I am speaking of specific scientific findings in this post, I can’t say with precision what level of awareness he has about his own actions. I can only observe the patterns of behavior and protect myself from being abused, and help others to recognize what abuse looks like.

At first, my dad wrote with apparent compassion toward me, saying that he had no idea how I could concoct such “false memories.” Since then, however, I’ve been painted increasingly as the villain. Over the past three months, he’s grown increasingly bold in his stance, demonizing me for outright lies, libel, and what he’s calling “social smearing.” He claims that he is on the side of love, and that he is “Facing Hate,” the title of an upcoming book he’s writing about how much my rebellion has hurt him.

It is unclear exactly what he is disputing, because he hasn’t gone into detail. His phrasing was already patriarchal, the man of the family speaking for the rest of them: “The Jeubs are not and have never been a family of abuse.” As if a family can be “of” something, like families have brands and mission statements like businesses. Rather than speaking as an individual, my dad insists on hiding behind the family to make this statement. This silences the individuality of his children, making them all into poster children for whatever he wants to say. It also assumes that I’ve opposed my siblings as well as my parents, which isn’t the case. To a man like my father, children are products – assets, as he likes to say. The family does not need vindication from my allegations. My siblings were the victims, not my parents.

Later in that post, he wrote, “At first, some in our family supported Cynthia, and our family was fractured.” I wanted to know, why would any of my family have supported me, if everything I said was lies? Further, what specifically was he denying as false? He has called my claims “far-out and bizarre,” and “unbelievable.” Every claim I made was not an unbelievable one, but similar examples can be found in countless families like mine. My Huffington Post article mentioned his book “Love in the House” pretty early on, and he’s still promoting that, while insisting what I wrote was “fabricated. All of it.”

DARVO

At first, these posts had the effect of making me doubt myself. I spent a couple of weeks in a fog of confusion, my dad’s words dancing around my head, disturbing my sleep and emotional stability. Then someone sent me the science of what was happening: a phenomenon called DARVO. Here’s the definition from the pioneer of this research, Jennifer J. Freyd, PhD:

 “DARVO stands for ‘Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.’ The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim — or the whistle blower — into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of ‘falsely accused’ and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.”

My dad’s pattern followed DARVO precisely. He denied everything I had to say, with vague blanket statements. He attacked and demonized my mental state, my credibility, my integrity, my character, and my lucidity. Then he reversed victim and offender, making himself into the victim in the situation. According to his blog and Patreon, he’s suffered like Jesus over my writing, endured an onslaught, had his reputation ravaged, and more.

As written on the University of Oregon’s website[1]:

In a 2017 peer-reviewed open-access research study, Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame[2], Harsey, Zurbriggen, & Freyd reported that: “(1) DARVO was commonly used by individuals who were confronted; (2) women were more likely to be exposed to DARVO than men during confrontations; (3) the three components of DARVO were positively correlated, supporting the theoretical construction of DARVO; and (4) higher levels of exposure to DARVO during a confrontation were associated with increased perceptions of self-blame among the confronters. These results provide evidence for the existence of DARVO as a perpetrator strategy and establish a relationship between DARVO exposure and feelings of self-blame. Exploring DARVO aids in understanding how perpetrators are able to enforce victims’ silence through the mechanism of self-blame.”[3]

It was especially number (4) from the paragraph above that made me realize what was happening inside my head. I was responding to the tactic with self-doubt, which is a consistent behavior when faced with DARVO from a perpetrator of abuse who’s been called out. It was a natural reaction, and that helped me understand that my doubts came from repeating a pattern of abuse I’d been groomed for. This self-doubt manifested in many forms, and I worked on them in my EMDR therapy sessions. I turned to friends and my partner for comfort and reassuring words, helping me to believe in myself while my head spun. I was angry that he could make me cry again. I was frustrated that he could get inside my head and plant confusion there. I felt unsafe, knowing that he can still reach my mind from afar, even if I’ve moved away and done my best to move on from the family and their ideology.

My dad was and is attempting to gaslight me from afar, via the internet. And it was working, because it was making me question my own sanity, even though I was and am surrounded with people who support me. It took a few weeks to regain my footing, to have control of my mind again, instead of being trapped in a state of shock and confusion. During this time, I carefully examined the facts again, checking my knowledge against what was being presented as the unvarnished truth.

False Memories and Mental Illness

It stuck with me for some time that my dad had accused me of concocting false memories. Well, had I? I asked myself. Especially because I spent over two decades being groomed specifically to go along with his specific form of psychological abuse, these blog posts sank through my skin, reminding me again how he uses words to hurt and abuse. As demonstrated above, abusers will attempt to undermine anyone who tries to hold them accountable for their actions. This alone should defend me against the accusation that I’ve produced false memories, but there’s a lot of interesting research on the subject. In the 90s, there were famous “memory wars” going on in the field of psychology, with countless people “remembering” abuses and even extraordinary events, like being abducted and prodded by aliens. How is one supposed to sort truth from falsehood, when memories are so hit-and-miss?

For information on this, I turned to the work of Bruce Perry, Ph. D. A child psychologist, he was called upon to sort through a case of mixed memories. In his book The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, he breaks down exactly how he went about conducting interviews and gathering information about what happened. The situation was what he titled “Satanic Panic,” and many children were telling mixed stories of “real” memories. Perry sorted out what was truth by discovering one crucial detail: that the children had been tortured by their caregivers, forced to relay stories of what they had never experienced. This information allowed him to sort out what had really happened. He observed that while some of the stories were told as if they were events being remembered, others were told with blank expressions, repeating details as if they’d been memorized. This process took 22 pages to explain, so I highly recommend the book to anyone who is interested in reading more about it.

I have never been quiet about my own mental illness. I suffer from Complex PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Growing up, I did not understand that mental illness comes in many forms, nor that having a mental illness isn’t the same as someone being “crazy.” I didn’t know this because my parents didn’t know it, and my parents were my only teachers. Today, my dad still lives under the assumption that calling someone mentally ill is an effective way to discredit them. This is not the case. You are not any less trustworthy, valid, or credible if you have a mental illness. My dad’s attempts to discredit me are ad hominem attacks, using as a personal attack something that doesn’t even discredit me.

Deplatforming, Doxing, and the “Social Media Mob”

Deplatforming is a nonviolent way to disempower the powerful. It is not at all like doxing, which involves leaking people’s personal information, exposing them to hate speech and death threats, including threats to personal safety. Deplatforming can, however, have an impact on the individual’s ability to continue using their name and influence to continue generating revenue or spreading hateful messages.

Because he is an abuser, my dad deserved to be deplatformed. He had a reputation that he’d worked hard to build, as a trusted debate coach and parenting author. While preaching a message of “love in the house,” he has no idea what love really is. For him, God is the ultimate definition of love, which makes it an ultimately meaningless word. For him, love does not have to include acceptance of or accountability to others. I wanted to reveal his hypocrisy to the world, and in telling the truth about my childhood memories – the good and the bad instead of just the good – I successfully removed him from the platform he did not deserve.

He has not been doxed or had an “online mob” sent after him. A legitimate series of examples of actually being targeted by falsehoods can be found here. Here are several comments, including some of his own, that he recently deleted. These are, to him, what constitute the “social media mob” that I’ve apparently sent after him.    

Book Three

Now that I have fully explained myself, I want to add one more piece of information. This book that my dad is writing, tentatively titled “Facing Hate: Dealing with social smearing from the people you love” is not the first book he has written about one of his rebellious children. I am his third daughter, and my two older sisters also had books written about their particular rebellions. The first one is pretty obvious, being Love in the House. Published after we were on The Learning Channel in 2007, it details a “reconciliation” that my parents had with my older sister, and how the prodigal had returned to the fold. This didn’t last – to my knowledge Alicia still isn’t on speaking terms with my parents. The second one, their book Love Another Child, was written inadvertently at my second oldest sister, Alissa. She eventually relented and began having children, even though she never wanted to. This third book is about me, and is the most explicitly targeted one.

After processing all of this information, I believe it is safe to assume that my father is still abusing his children at home. The reason for this is that the abuser has two goals: (1) he must be allowed to continue his abuse, and (2) he must keep up appearances that he is not, in fact, abusing anyone. Whenever someone makes (2) impossible, (1) is at risk. This is why he is getting so defensive – he wants to continue hiding what happens inside that house. Again, I must say that how he personally views the situation is entirely different from how I do, and it is impossible to tell for sure what is going on inside his head. I am pointing out the patterns I see in this very public statement he has made about me, and calling it what it is: public gaslighting.


[1] https://dynamic.uoregon.edu/jjf/defineDARVO.html

[2] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10926771.2017.1320777

[3] Harsey, S., Zurbriggen, E., & Freyd, J.J. (2017 — published Open Access). Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, & Trauma, 26, 644-663.

Slow Progress

When you report symptoms of depression and anxiety, the doctors give you a chart to fill out. Rating on a scale of frequency, it asks questions like how often you feel like you’d be better off dead, or take little interest in doing things. Though I caved to trying psychiatric medications years ago, they still haven’t found anything to bring down my scores from the most extreme.

One question on this chart has always stood out to me. It asks, “Do you feel that you are being punished?”  It’s such a strange question to ask someone who has had to let go of everything in life – a career, a family, an extended family, a home, convenience itself. How am I to look at my experience and feel that I am not being punished?

I started my research on economic inequality from a place of anger. Anger is great for writing if you know how to edit yourself out of saying something absurd and indefensible. It heats my blood, which is also great for my poor circulation. It motivates me to put one word in front of the other.

But each fall and winter, my depression puts my emotions into hibernation. Writing is more of a task than an escape. The motivation has been sucked out of me, and the fight to eat and sleep is more pressing than the fight to keep telling the world about how awful it is. How I’m so lucky to have sponsors and patrons and clients, when so many of the people I know don’t have those opportunities, yet I’m still dragging along, clinging to my vices because they’re all I can afford.

My need to be grateful fights with my depression. I don’t have a right to be depressed, my depression tells me. Yet every day, as I break down in the kitchen because I’m tired of cooking chicken and rice and stretching out the food stamps to last, as I take hours to accomplish basic errands because I cannot afford a car, as I work to find more work for myself that can be done at home, I know that I need to keep speaking about poverty, because it is a relentless monster that is hurting so many people.

There are extremes to poverty. But to have that conversation would mean breaking down the entire nature of the word “poverty.” As I study the economic complexities of eradicating poverty, I’ve learned it’s important to ask why poverty exists in the first place. I think the religious answer has always been that poverty is a fact of life, it just is a thing that happens. There’s a vague notion, both among the religious and nonreligious, that those who are poor pretty much deserve to be poor – it’s Karma or fate or punishment for being a bad person.

Another punishing element of poverty is that it’s literally criminalized. If you don’t have enough to pay, you’ll be punished with, of course, having to pay more money. This applies to late fees, interest on debts, counts against a credit score, and parking tickets. I once had a job where everyone but the managers had to pay to park, and if I couldn’t get my boss to let me run outside and refill the meter, I’d get a ticket. It doesn’t make sense to punish lack of money with charging more money – unless the whole purpose is to exact money from the poor. As has been circulating on revolutionary social media, “Punishable by a fine means legal for the rich.”

Growing up, I thought I was poor. But I was not – everything was just spread really thin because we had over a dozen people living on a single middle-class income. My parents didn’t like the idea of handouts or laziness being rewarded, and treated poverty like it was a choice. Something they had chosen by having so many children. I was reflecting on the mixed messages recently, realizing I couldn’t wrap my head around them at all. We were poor because of how many people there were, my dad loved to say. But he also loved to say that everyone should have large families because children aren’t actually that big of an expense.

Pursuing an economic narrative that holds water has not been easy – that is, I was looking in all the wrong places at first. I once religiously read Tim Ferris’ books on how to get ahead financially. I believed that the solution was in my own productivity and output. That was what I’d been taught, and all of my siblings are so obsessed with being productive that we can’t relax. Now I’m reading about a much bigger, older world than the one I was introduced to. A 6,000-year-old earth simply cannot hold the vastness of our evolutionary history. A 6,000-year-old earth cannot even hold the many dynasties and civilizations that predate Greco-Roman-European-U.S. rule.

Now I see that poverty is relentless for the exact reason that wealth relentlessly flows to the wealthiest among us. I once researched and argued for trickle-down capitalist economics, and I hope this gives me some understanding of those who still believe what I used to. But once I found myself homeless and employed, the dragging hours of having nothing to do except swelter in a car between shifts were a worse punishment than anything my parents concocted when I was a child.

Poverty is so impersonal. From the homeless on the streets of the U.S. to the 2 million displaced people in Yemen, the poor suffer the collateral damage of other powers. There is no control over the situation, except to keep selling your labor. So what happens when you realize that no matter how hard you work, you’ll never get ahead? What if, in fact, the system was designed to keep you running in place?

These are the questions I’m working on answering. But right now, instead of feeling angry, I feel very depressed about it all, and the researching process takes about ten times the energy output I have to give. Every movement drags. Every experience is tainted with a cloud of depression. Genuine emotion comes in short outbursts, and mostly, they are more helpful to my therapy than to my writing.

I ponder often Amanda Palmer’s amazing book The Art of Asking, in which she goes to great lengths to explain that it is perfectly acceptable to ask, and keep asking, when you’re an artist in need. But it’s not that easy when you’re poor, and while I adore Amanda and her work and what she’s done for artists, her affluent background with a dependable family and full education in art makes it hard for me to relate. But I hope one day to emulate Amanda Fucking Palmer and embrace my art with as much revelry and abandon. I know that such things cannot be fabricated. They take the practice of reflection, mindfulness, and dedicated work on the art that matters. That is the work I am prioritizing in my life. As always, please do not give to your own detriment, and only give if you can spare. But if you want to help me stay housed this month, my PayPal and CashApp information are here.

I sat down to write about how my mind and body are going through a lot, and it became about my immediate needs. I want so badly to break beyond this threshold and get to a point where I can give of my excess, rather than struggling to get by. So often, I see people saying “I want to get rich so I can give my money away.” I think this is a noble enough goal, at least in capitalist-colonist terms. Yet the real solution would be something far broader – a redistribution of resources that doesn’t define wealth according to currency and property. For now, what we can do for each other is spread resources to those in need.

Needs come to the foreground every time I talk to my therapist, and it hinders me to be worried about life as it is, because I’m trying to recover. When life is as full of punishing hard knocks for a young adult as it was in their rocky childhood, what are we to say about recovery as a whole? People want to hear a story of victory, and to hear that a survivor is doing well, recovering and getting better. But I’m stalled, hung up on the need to survive, and it’s tempting to constantly worry about the present instead of processing the past.

I am finally coming out of my freeze, and after several months of slogging through the effort of trying different medications, it seems that I’m on ones that work now. I’m so grateful to everyone who has been helping me along on this journey – more than words can say. 

As the months have passed, and it’s been over a year since I’ve been able to drive, life has slowed down and I am learning to be patient with its pace. I have to plan around bus schedules that take hours to take me to appointments. I’m trying to read more, and get on social media less. I’m also working a lot on my book and on videos, because this month I was given a new camera and microphone! Thank you so much to those who sent them.

I believe that we can help alleviate the punishment that capitalism inflicts by helping each other. Life is relentlessly slow when you’re poor, right down to having to walk everywhere, including to carry your groceries home from the store.  

I will never be “better,” or in perfect health. But I feel like I’m finally regaining some executive function over myself, and that’s awesome. Thank you for believing in me through the times that I couldn’t believe in myself.

Art Worth Making

“Don’t use your memoir to air old grievances and to settle old scores; get rid of that anger somewhere else. The memoirs that we do remember from the 1990s are the ones that were written with love and forgiveness…although the childhoods they describe were painful, the writers are as hard on their younger selves as they are on their elders. We are not victims, they want us to know. We come from a tribe of fallible people and we have survived without resentment to get on with our lives.” -William Zinsser, On Writing Well

I’ve been reflecting on what’s important to make art about, and what it means to me to make good art. For me, music is worth making, but I’m not in a position in my life where I can afford musical instruments and I am very out of practice on my piano lessons. I love music, which is why I put so many music lyrics in my blog posts. In my own self-deprecating self-talk, I think of writing as a lesser form than music or less of an art than painting. When I think about how many tears I’ve cried over my book and the heartfelt essays and stories I’ve written, though, I know that it is art. Sometimes the pain of the process looks less painful when it produces such beautiful things as songs and paintings.

Over the past several months, I’ve been having a very difficult time writing at all. It’s why my posts, which used to go up daily or at least weekly, have dwindled to one or two a month. I keep giving myself breaks from it all, going to therapy and working through the shit I’m writing about, and then trying to write about it, bouncing back from the dissonance of revisiting trauma, and it’s very difficult to accomplish much at all. That said, I’m making progress on the book and I’ve finished a few chapters that took me literally years to get out, going back to the same memories until I’d finally told the details fully and clearly.

So, it’s difficult. Such is the life of making art, I tell myself, so I shouldn’t complain. I often question myself, though: what kind of art do I want to make, and what kind of art is worth making in the first place?

In attempting to answer the first question, I’ve been working my way through memoirs to better acquaint myself with that particular form of writing. I’m writing a memoir, so I want to know what made great memoirs great, and what details of the story are truly unique experiences. I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is that my childhood was not among the worst things humans can endure. I’ve read and heard stories far more brutal and cruel than my parents ever were or could be. While I know things could have been worse and I was lucky in a lot of ways, I don’t have to be grateful that it wasn’t worse.

Back in 2014, I was so shocked by what had happened in my family, and was so full of grief over losing my little siblings who I’d helped raise, that I wrote from a place of anger. I didn’t embellish facts, though my dad is still trying to convince the world that I did. But today, that anger has found rest. I’m wondering now how much longer this back-and-forth will go on, and whether I should directly acknowledge and respond to my dad’s many posts about me that he’s made recently. I am young, and so are my parents, and this could escalate to legal proportions as the years drag on. These are all things I took into account when I decided to write about my parents’ abuse. I am just…apparently still chewing what I bit off, which includes my dad’s hypocritical attempt to damage my reputation by calling me a liar who’s trying to damage his. Which, full disclosure, I’m well aware that I hurt his pride and ministry – two things I do not value. But I have not hurt my siblings by writing, I’ve helped make sure they were put in school. This is something I explained to my Patreon patrons a few weeks ago, and I want to explain it here now. I’m not angry anymore. And I want my memoir to reflect the perspective I’ve gained in the years I’ve spent building a life for myself.

The memoir as an art form is like a self-portrait. It doesn’t have to be an exact likeness, but can be abstract or in whatever the painter’s style is. Showing yourself to the world is a vulnerable act, and good art is raw because artists do the hard work of reaching within themselves to make manifest representations of universal experiences. As I’ve read memoirs that are similar to the one I’m writing, I’ve been observing what I do and don’t want to do in my memoir. I don’t think I’ll be calling my mother a bitch over and over like Christina Crawford did in Mommie Dearest, and I won’t be writing from the same place of confused pain that I first wrote with almost five years ago. It’s taken me this long to get to the point where I am even able to take the outline and notes I’ve been working on and start seriously drafting. But at last, the draft is underway. After walking away from the book for a month and coming back to it with fresh eyes, I have two more chapters done. The process now is to just keep taking it word by word, not letting myself procrastinate in the name of perfection, still looking after my mental health as I write, and forming the best possible memoir I can write, no matter how long it takes.

Living with Existential Depression

People have been asking how I’m doing, and I answer that it’s all the same as it was months ago. I’m still fighting the monster of depression, I’m still trying to find meds that work for me, I’m still struggling to find my way back to my art. There’s not much to report when it feels like so little progress is being made to recover from mental illness.

Today I deleted over 4,000 words that I had written over the past year, none worth posting on my blog. My latest low point of depression – which usually lasts from October to March (here’s hoping) – has made me far more critical of my own writing. Each time I go through another season of worsened depression (the depression doesn’t go away, it’s just less crushing during the rest of the year), I come out of it feeling aged and weary, full of shadow from the depths.

I haven’t been publishing my spiraling musings, because I lose sight of my point before I can get to the next sentence. It’s very difficult to write essays, which require the curiosity and imagination to do intensive research, and the focus to follow a thought pattern through to its often nuanced and numerous possible conclusions. Even as I’ve tried to journal or write poetry, no inspiration flows from my dedication.

The depths of depression involve hours of being trapped in a body that won’t do your bidding. The will to move, and the will to make decisions, takes immense effort. Sleep is both evasive and invasive. Days turn into weeks where I find myself in an endless haze, unable to break out of it, no matter what I try. I write rambling paragraphs that spiral across fifteen subjects, not a clear or complete concept expressed among them. These include angry rants, notes about my internal world and emotions, scattered thoughts, and generally small outbursts of attempts at writing. It’s passionate, but it doesn’t contain the focus I want to reserve for my blog.

For me, depression is an inward dive. Each winter, I learn existential things I never thought about before, and learn about what it takes for me to survive. Finding the will to live takes more digging each time it gets dropped, and the person with depression can do nothing to hold on to it. Nothing external can reach the depths of what’s going on internally. Even art, the attempt to express emotion, is impossible to creatively conjure. Depression is lost time. It means sleeping excessively and feeling guilty for not being able to do more, while wanting desperately for the means to describe what is happening. When words refuse to take shape, all I can do is wait for the clarity to return to my mind. My time has not been wasted, I tell myself. I am resting, recovering, reflecting. I am worth taking care of. But it is hard to tell myself this truth.

What floats around in my head is existential defeat. I contemplate irreconcilably hopeless thoughts. For instance, that humanity is unlikely to make drastic changes in its behavior before it goes extinct. I contemplate how the human mind desires reconciliation and harmony, and attempts to create it, sacrificing reality for cognitive comfort. Reflecting on my place in the universe makes me feel infinitely small, just an animal on a rock in space with a tiny amount of time to live, and not much influence with which to improve the world in which I live. My personal determination to face unpleasant facts is not easy on my mind. The reason I continue to do so is that I want to base myself in reality, even if it sucks, rather than in unreality, even if it is enticingly easy.

These existential musings have forced me to come back to writing with more realism. Last year, I was working restlessly with the urgency that my writings might make a difference in economic disparity. Over the past six months, I’ve come to realize in a new way how very small I am. I simply don’t have the power to fix an entire global economy. Reassessing my own audience size and the scale of my actual influence has made me step back from my writing and reevaluate what is most important for me to write about. My expectations have lowered, not for myself, but for the impact of my writings. In short, my purpose is no longer to write with ambitious expectations of dramatic changes in the world. This may seem obvious, but I was living under the delusion that my writings were crucial to the cause, and I no longer believe that they are. They’re for me, and for whoever’s reading. That’s all.

I won’t deny that this newfound realism has put a real damper on my sense of worth, my confidence in my writing, and the flow of creativity. Writing is harder than it ever was before. Yet the months have passed, and I am slowly coming out of my seasonal despair, and I have contemplated new reasons to stay alive and keep creating.

The things I ponder while I’m fighting the depths of depression involve finding hope in a deeper place than before. It’s like I reinvent my sense of meaning each time I fight my way back up out of it. Hope was difficult to find when I was religious, and I had a belief system from which to draw positive conclusions. It is indescribably more difficult to find hope now. In my idle wonderings, I’ve hypothesized that hope itself is impossible to justify while facing the facts of reality. Perhaps there is meaning deeper than hope itself. For this idea, I’ve thought of the word “momentousness” to describe what I’ve tried to center myself in.  

I do not have hope for the future. Not personally and not for humanity and not for the planet. Over time, there will be nothing left of any of it. In search for meaning, I focus on momentousness – we lucky few get to live in these times. As Stephen Hawking put it, “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.”

The fact that I am a conscious being capable of comprehending my place in the universe is itself a phenomenon worth staying alive to experience. That is the meaning I have found beyond hope for the future – momentousness. Even if the problems we face individually and as a species and planet don’t warrant much hope, there is a meaning deeper than hope in momentousness.

I wish I could say that this was enough to sustain me, to make me feel like getting up in the morning. The truth is that I get up each morning to roll a cigarette to chase away the trauma-induced nightmares, and then it’s back to another day of wrestling with the existential depression.

Winter Freeze

“When people are compulsively and constantly pulled back into the past, to the last time they felt intense involvement and deep emotions, they suffer from a failure of the imagination, a loss of the mental flexibility. Without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future, no place to go, no goal to reach.” -Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score

This happens every winter – my writing slows down, I sink into existential depression, and I feel like I don’t deserve any of the good things that happen to me, while fighting to get through necessary appointments and tasks, and I fall deep into therapy, letting my emotional turmoil roar until I feel like writing again in weeks or months.

My relationship with writing is changing, and I know it’s for the best, but I’ve always been impatient with growth. What I’m learning is how to combine my high-brow research with my emotional side.

My emotional side is very broken. I’ve been reading a lot about psychology to understand more about what is going on with me. Basically, I dissociate hundreds of times a day – doing things that are embarrassing, with lapses in my memory every time I enter a new room or put something down or in a pocket. I forget where I put things, within moments of putting them there. I wake up every morning chasing away nightmares about the chaos of my past, and these nightmares have raged on in every sleeping moment for months. I wake up exhausted as a result. I’m trying to work hard for my clients, and often have little energy left over to write. And what to write? What, indeed.

I’ve learned that when I go through dry spells with writing, the most prudent course of action is to just keep putting one word in front of the other, and hopefully, eventually, I’ll have something worth sharing with the world. So each morning, I work on the many essays I have partially written across many documents, picking one and working on it for as long as I can. Then I work for my clients. Then I try to get new clients. Then I’m knocked flat, often huddling with my heat pad, dealing with the impacts of the trauma on my body. The pain itself is something so visceral, it’s hard to put into words.

Doctors ask, “when did it start?” And I always look at them in confusion. The pain has always been there. I just learned how to relate to my body in a way that wasn’t numb. I used to think that I could just ignore it, and I would be fine. It’s why I struggle with eating, too – my body has been locked into a state of survival for so long, remembering my mother’s words, just do the next three things, busy, busy, busy, that I don’t know how to stop. But I can describe the pain now, as it haunts me daily: pain in my wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, spine, lower back, hips, knees, and ankles, and everything in between, but primarily sprouting and spreading from the joints. They still haven’t found a medical cause for my chronic pain, and I’ve so far had ineffective medication for the psychological symptoms of my trauma, so I rely on cannabis for pain relief and to help me eat.

Does it hurt to type? Of course. But writing is my lifeblood, both literally and figuratively, updated dictionaries be damned. So I sit with the words and let them marinate, and cry a lot, and trust the process of recovery.

The road is long. It is far from over. I am still on the edge of homelessness – staying stable thanks to astounding sponsors. I am still dealing with the anxiety of staying alive, keeping a roof over my head, and stretching my food stamps far enough to avoid living on peanut butter and noodles at the end of every month. Each time I talk about economic disparity, and of the complex challenges related to trauma, recovery, and trying to stay alive and afloat, I get a twinge of guilt for vocalizing the taboo. And yet it’s desperately needed. The fact is that I’m not better, I’m not stable, and I won’t be for a long time. Internally, I’m doing everything I can to process the emotions and impatience and fear related to that. Externally, I am working on writing in all of my spare time – it’s not a full-time job, but as I’ve explained elsewhere, my body won’t allow me to work full-time anymore. I can’t keep pushing myself. My body has broken through to my mind at last, and I am constantly aware of the years of labor that were demanded of me.

I’m learning something new: how to play with writing, instead of fighting desperately to demand productivity from myself. I’m learning how to relax, instead of carrying all this tension in my body – and that process takes a lot of emotional work, unraveling what I wound up and sealed inside because I was not allowed to express my feelings.

I’m learning how to paint in the whole picture, not just tell stories for their shock value. As I work on the book, I am working to elicit my own voice and tone, while telling a vibrant story, complete with well-developed characters who have unique mannerisms and ways of speaking. These are my siblings and parents, frozen in time at the ages they were when I last knew them. Such a thing is painfully delicate. These are real people who are growing up and existing, already in a different family than the one I knew, because it is always being reinvented. Now there are nine kids at home, and all of them are in school. Things are changing, but my parents’ personalities haven’t.

Now I see my family as a symptomatic thing, a very small group of people in a much larger picture, one that is, ultimately, an entire population deluded by religion and conservative politics. My perspective is impersonal. I am nobody on the broad scale of human power and destruction, and this thought often keeps me from writing, as the meaninglessness of it all envelops me in numb depression.

So what I’m working on in therapy is recognizing – yes, I know my parents aren’t evil, they did their best, and did what they believed was right, and I can’t even really blame them for all of the above, because they are as misled as the MAGA masses they are a part of – BUT that still leaves emotional baggage to dig through. Regardless of whether I understand what happened cognitively, there is a little girl who’s wrapped under layers and layers of mental protection that I constructed to survive, scared and hurting and angry and in pain. I’m working on finding her, holding her, nurturing her, and figuring out how to align myself so I see her as me and us as the same.

The Devastation of Lost Faith

“I lay in a bed of resistance
Chained to either side
I really wish I could, reset, rewind
Someone has clawed out my eyes

I don’t know what they told you
But this place is not what you think

Living inside a hole, they put me underground
Where they could never find me unless they dig me out
I search for the answers
‘Cause this is the end

God, it’s caving in on me
I feel them watching
But no one seems to care anymore.” -Underoath, In Division

They say to just sit down and write, but sometimes I go through dry spells in my emotions and writing. Sometimes the words pour out, each story in its vivid detail being told with fierce determination to practice the journalism I always dreamed to – telling the untold stories. Insights on Epic Living was a tagline I based on a Christian sermon series by a pastor named Chuck Swindoll. I’ve always wanted to keep the focus of my blog open, a place for people to get lost in interesting ideas and to feel welcomed in the darkness of my mind. This desire birthed many essays that resonated with my Christian friends, my justifications for the beliefs I’d known since early childhood.

I wrote in one essay, titled “Goth culture and why Christians are attracted to the dark,” published December 2012:

The Bible has a bunch of metaphors about the dark being connected to evil, so I was confused: I thought I’d gotten rid of my darkness. I had; the negativity was gone, but I still wanted to listen to heavy music, turn off all the lights, and pry into the hidden world of my mind with the Spirit’s help. It’s scary to discover the dark corners of my own mind, but prayer directs me toward this practice because a relationship with God who is love will always mean total vulnerability. It’s even rewarding: the things I hide from myself aren’t always bad things, and could be hidden talents or aspects I covered in unwarranted shame.

Dark and light is a good metaphor, but I think the Bible only uses it as a metaphor for evil, not that the dark itself is evil. Why else would God separate the light from the darkness, call the light day and the darkness night, and say that it was altogether good?

The dark is not evil, but contains evil because like vulnerability, it has been tainted. I define evil and hell as antimatter, the thing that attacks what exists. Black holes are what within the universe provide a metaphor for what hell is. It twists and tears away, but it cannot create. So when Christians, as they get more interested in God, get an urge to seek out the quiet of the night and to explore in the dark, destroying the evil they find there and treasuring the insights the darkness offers, they are confused because they’ve been taught the dark is evil.

Goth people quickly become outcasts, because they’ve fought battles those who avoid the dark can’t understand. Going to dark places of fear, to fight battles there and seek revelation, is far from a sin. It’s a necessity for the Christian life. David, Jesus, and the Prophets all participated in going to dark places, not the least of which was the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Christians are attracted to the dark because it is good. There is solace, beauty, and revelation there. Do not ignore the darkness. Enter it with courage, and you will gain experience and fight battles.

Many of the observations I made then were organized with a very us-vs-them, black-or-white, extreme-swinging way, while I still believe in what I was getting at. I still think the darkness of the mind is a valuable place to be, and I sit with my mind every day, catching it when I dissociate or get triggered and caught up in trauma. I observe my thought processes, and try to listen to myself when my emotions surface beneath the fog of depression and the whirlwind of anxiety.

Darkness is not something to be rid of. I once scrubbed all negativity from myself, leaving an empty vessel with room for positive thoughts and a cheery disposition. I called myself the happy fairy, because I believed that God wanted me to be pure and good, to encounter the darkness for the purpose of spiritual warfare, to battle with my demons. “With the Spirit’s help” meant I firmly believed that there was a being out there who was intimately acquainted with my thoughts – after all, the Book of Ultimate Truths that I’d been memorizing promises and facts from since I could barely read said so.

I still sit with my darkness, though. Prayer doesn’t direct me there, psychology does. I want to understand my own thoughts, and I know now that nobody is responsible for them but myself. Being vulnerable with myself is even more challenging than being vulnerable with a deity, because I can project whatever I like onto that deity. This is not an exclusively Christian experience, not by a long shot – we fear the darkness and the recesses of our minds simply because we are animals, having briefly woken up in a tiny window of time on a vast planet in a vaster universe.

The process of losing my faith was like being swept under by more and more evidence, a landslide of the mind. I was overcome with depression like nothing before, and I felt more like Jesus than ever, annoyingly – abandoned by a nonexistent God. It fucking hurt to learn that there isn’t someone out there who feels what I feel, who knows what I know, who knows what I think, and who can hear my prayers when I am concerned with anything, anything at all.

I clung to my faith through losing my family, through embracing my sexuality, and through many lost friends. I fear that people who still have these things to lose, who share their religion with their communities and professional connections, are even less likely to walk away from their faith than myself. In the end, I had to do my own dark work, and grieve the religion that had promised me everything if only I would love Jesus more than my father and mother, brothers and sisters, and myself. I was terrified, not of what the world beyond mine might hold, because I was already in it, but of the void inside my mind.

Realizing that God does not exist is not a moment of belief. It is a moment of realization, of a million puzzle pieces falling into place, with such brutal imagery in the mind that it is difficult to reconstruct the existence of God again. Yet many do just that, returning to religious roots after briefly playing the skeptic. I am baffled by this fact, but faith is enticing, so easy to fall back on, that I understand why some of my friends have returned to the faith. After all, it is easier to deal with family when you can have common ground about God.

I could go on for pages and pages with the details of how exactly my faith broke down – but that will have to be saved for the book, Music in the Dream House. In it, I’m talking about how when I competed in homeschool speech Apologetics (pretty much my only education throughout high school), I began researching both original sin and a doctrine called “inerrancy “(it basically means that the Bible can’t have any errors in it because God has made sure that would never happen). I quickly found that my own holy book had little integrity behind it at all. Six years later, when I had finally faced myself and could wrestle with the concept of God without the distractions of familial ties and reputation, I read “The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan, which made a highly memorable observation that God is not unlike an invisible dragon, whose existence cannot be proved. I also read my first Barbara Ehrenreich book, “Living With a Wild God,” where she pointed out that God might be a cop-out answer to, well, everything we can’t explain. Then in an astronomy class, for the first time in my life, someone pointed to the table of elements and said, “these elements that make up everything we need to exist – they are made by stars. We are star stuff.”

That was it for my faith – at last, I no longer needed a creator. But nobody hands you a salve for the devastation of lost faith. I’m still angry with how many assumptions I lived under, with how much of my life I feel like I lost. Can you be angry at God for not existing? Totally, if I’m any example, though I’ll admit I feel silly about it a lot.

The thing is, the past few years have shown me far more about religion than I ever cared to see while I was still clinging to it. I now recognize religion as a method for controlling the masses, and it breaks my heart that I know so many people who are still being swept under the current. Christianity took the hero’s journey and sold it as a salvation story. But what is so good about the so-called “good news” anyway? The essence of the gospel is this: “You were bought with blood. God owns your life now.”

And that’s a hell of a lot to recover from, to unravel from the depths of an already confusing childhood. The foundation for it all was something hidden away in thick books of theology, ones I wouldn’t explore until my late teens. Then it would take several years for my faith to finally break down. I know this, yet I am impatient and angry, seeing how desperately the world needs to see the damaging impacts of religion. I want for others to join me on this side of life, where the universe is massive and mysterious, and we are but tiny, lucky observers in it. Yet I know that the loss of faith is deeply personal, a process that demands profound patience.

Looking back, I realize that it was acknowledging the darkness in the first place that helped me to escape. Music was a huge part of this process, as well – a friend recommended that I listen to Eyedea, and I sank into a new low as The Dive resonated so strongly with me. It asked, “Have you ever felt yourself slipping away, where all you think about is your sanity and how it decayed?” I remember taking a long walk on a cold December night, letting that whole album play through, letting the tears freeze on my face. My fears were realized in the haunting, repeated words at the end of the song: “And with each foot you fall, the voice in your head starts to sound more and more like yours.”

Then came part 2 of the song, and I urge anyone who is struggling with their faith to listen carefully and consider that the world beyond the dive into the darkness – even in the face of a massive question like the existence of God – is worth going to.

Take a deep breath. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
What you just did was fall to the depths of existence.
The place the mind keeps you away from by its own process of building models for understanding.
This is not insanity, this is in fact the ultimate reality
The union you’ve achieved is only possible in thoughts no more
You never fall if you never fight
You found yourself fall into madness so you dove
The best thing you ever did was let go.

Dear Anxiety

“Trapped in a cold white room
I want to know, who’ll be there when you snuff the wick?
I won’t reflect the same as you
I want the proof you’ll promise to let ’em down quick.
I never want to see clear at all
There’s nothing that could be there now
Pull out your teeth (until)
There’s nothing left (at all)
Immediately I feel relief from dragging this vessel around.” –Circa Survive

Hypervigilance. That’s what the professionals call it.

For me, it means I can’t sit still or relax. It means the pain in my joints is so preoccupying, I am often seen stretching my arms and neck and legs, letting the tension pop its way out. It means I have a difficult time with down time. I’m obsessed with being productive with all my time. It means I sometimes shake uncontrollably, or go quiet and closed off, caught in a loop of immobilization.

Years ago, I wrote about “immobilization” as an enemy of mine, something that was a result of demonic and hellish influence. I saw idleness as sin, and the temptation to be idle, an external force. Now I am aware that it’s okay to relax sometimes.

It takes an incredible amount of effort to focus. Work is difficult, even watching a whole movie or episode from a show is a restless endeavor. I’m constantly aware of what needs to be done, and feel like a bad person if I don’t get my tasks out of the way each day. Once I finish my to-do list, I am at a loss for more to do. I have no hobbies except writing and cooking. Entertainment feels like a waste of time, even though I know (cognitively, not emotionally) it’s not.

I wish I had a solution. Part of having anxiety, combined with being brainwashed to believe in the existence of an all-powerful deity, is it makes for simplistic solutions. There was always an answer for me, growing up. Always some “wisdom” that would help me in every detail of life, from policing my own thoughts to what political party I should vote for. I often wait to write until I’ve done significant research, ending each post with a sense of closure.

But life doesn’t always have closure, I’m learning. There is no big secret to commanding the human emotions. I’ve been looking for the key that will make life fall into place. Maybe it has something to do with my attitude, my level of gratitude, my hindering beliefs – anything over which I hold the illusion of control. Then I run in circles, trying to control my thoughts and beliefs all over again, before realizing once again that I’m expecting a total solution.

Solutions are easy when your belief system is waterproof. From the outside, Christianity has more holes than a colander, and Christians look like a bunch of people who wear colanders on their heads – as long as they aren’t used for holding water, their beliefs work just fine. Every logical argument against it is met with manipulation. Not sure if you’re hearing God? That’s your problem to solve – he is never distant, but we humans can distance ourselves from him. Not sure if the Bible is all that great? That’s your problem to solve, by reading it with a contrite heart. Any questions about the goodness of God? Don’t worry – God is good, you just can’t comprehend ultimate goodness.

So, now as both an adult with severe anxiety and a person who knows god isn’t real, I comprehend what is happening when I grasp for solutions. It’s a deeply ingrained expectation, deep as self-delusion and thought control. It feels like I do it hundreds of times a day. My partner will express his own chronic pain, and my immediate response is to offer something that will help – a heat pad, help with stretching, a massage, etc. Solutions, solutions, solutions. I want to solve it all, and make the patterns lay down, so my mind can finally be at rest.

But as I practice mindfulness, I recognize that the search for solutions is a distraction. The root of my aim is how can I make this go away? When there is ultimately nothing I can do to relieve my partner’s pain, nor my own, for that matter. In this sense, the search for solutions has become the culprit behind my resistance.

I jump to solutions because it was my responsibility for years to have them, and I was to fear a lecture or violent outburst if I failed. And I failed a lot. Mom would leave lengthy to-do lists whenever she left the house, expecting it to be complete by the time she got home. If I couldn’t do it all, I was made to feel like a despicable person. The resulting anxiety still courses through my body, finding its way into joint tension and a fluttering pulse. Even though it’s been years since my parents were a part of my life, I am still dealing with their voices, both while awake and asleep. They insist that I solve everything by the end of the day, and I fight with them every time I close my computer for the day, determined to relax despite the hypervigilance.

The determination to relax presents its own problem, because it takes effort. Relaxation just means to relax, right?

If only it were that easy.

When God Spoke to Me

“Descartes invoked God – in this case, a literal deus ex machina – to save himself…When people run up against something inexplicable, transcendent, and, most of all, ineffable, they often call it ‘God,’ as if that were some sort of explanation.” –Barbara Ehrenreich

“If you withhold information from your children because you would rather them not know what reality is really like, for fear that it is going to affect their beliefs, then you are doing them harm.” -Lawrence Krauss

I was the youngest person in the group to be baptized. We didn’t have a baptismal in our church, so my two older sisters and me were going to the 1st Baptist Church near Fargo, North Dakota for our baptisms. I had watched The Jesus Film dozens of times, begging to watch it more often. I was often disappointed with myself for falling asleep before the end, my favorite part, where Jesus died for my sins. I felt like a bad person for it being my favorite part. The important thing was that he rose from the dead, conquering death, but I was curious about the pain, the torture – the rites to being a righteous martyr were in suffering. At age five, I had read Joan of Arc, and related deeply with the young girl who begged to serve God, and succumbed to the flames licking around her crying, “Jesus! Jesus!”

My entire history was of people who had suffered and died for the faith. I knew nothing else about world and American history, because my entire K-12 schooling depended upon two people: my parents. I incessantly drew disturbing pictures in bright markers of people being martyred for being Christians, and even more of people being baptized. I understood that it meant I was drowning/dying to my old self, and making myself new, cleansed by the blood of Jesus and dead to sin. I remember waiting, holding my breath in that massive tub with the curtains pulled away, my godparents and grandparents and parents watching.

Our pastor was Dale Clifton, a balding man who always called the children up for a simple and fun sermon before his longer, duller sermon for the adults. Jeub kids were trained to sit still and be quiet, and when all of the other children were sent away to Sunday School, we sat in our pews quietly, knowing spankings awaited us if we were unruly in church. Many a parent would stop us and say, “Your children are so well behaved! How do you do it?” And dad would reach up to the pile of books in the windshield, several copies of the book “To Train Up a Child” by Michael and Debi Pearl. Dad bought them by the case, and the only chapter we didn’t follow from it was on training newborns to pee in the toilet instead of using diapers.

When I came up out of the tub, I swear I could feel angels singing, and the holy spirit descending upon me like a dove, Jesus’ white-faced smile welcoming me into his arms proudly. After I’d changed out of my wet clothes (with a modest swimsuit underneath them – even a child can’t be too modest during a baptism), my grandmother Judy gave me a book from her and Grandpa Bernie. It was a book called “Wise Words for Little People.” Simple rhymes describing Biblical virtues were depicted alongside charming illustrations of children and anthropomorphized animals behaving badly, with little bible verses to back up the truth in the rhymes. One read:

The Bible is a special book.
It helps us to obey.
So read the Bible if you can,
A little every day.

Another went:

If you’re acting naughty,
Your parents may spank you.
But when you get older;
You’ll want to say “Thank you!”

Because I accepted these poems as totally true, my young and words-hungry mind memorized these words and the Psalms and Proverbs they were based on, from the Bible.

The thing is, the average Christian in America would have zero problem with such a book. At face value, it’s so mainstream that my liberal grandmother didn’t think twice about the abuse she was reinforcing with the message. Everyone I knew, all of my authority figures, and everyone in my world knew that god was real. And why shouldn’t I have believed? My survival was dependent on going along with the people who controlled it.

In my recent writings, I’ve been trying to effectively communicate why I’m so angry with Christianity right now. No, it’s not because I’m mad at god – she and I parted ways on good terms. In fact, now that I understand that I simply had an imaginary friend, I’m getting to know the person beyond the “she” I always dissociated away from and projected onto the scared, pain-wracked little body that couldn’t possibly be myself as a child. These things weren’t happening to me, they were happening to Her. For twenty years, I planned to write my autobiography in the third person. I’m still sorting through those notes to tell stories in my memoir, and I see now what I was doing as I wrote then: dissociation, projection, escaping. I don’t blame myself. It’s all I could do.

After being baptized, I hoped that my sins would go away, but they didn’t. I felt like a worse and worse person, and began punishing myself for it, which I knew was sinful, so I would hide in the closet, pinching myself with clothespins and feeling like God was near to me, holding me, telling me that he understood why I had to torture myself. I had to be strong. I had to be strong for the torture someday. I had to be strong for Jesus.

When I was a teenager, I learned more about how to talk to God and listen to God. My family had been through multiple church splits, and had formed a small congregation that gathered in the living rooms of its members, switching between families each Sunday, when dad started preaching from a book called “Walking With God” by John Eldredge. I wanted desperately to feel close to God, the inspiration for everything that the people around me lived for. I prayed on my knees, I studied my Bible and read literally hundreds of books each year about how to be a pure-thinking virgin, a thankless servant to her parents and siblings, and tried to do what was being demanded of me – soft words, a cheerful temperament, and tireless energy.

Recently in my survivor groups, the conversation has come up that when people hear our stories, they think we’re exceptions. Oh, well, spanking isn’t the problem – your parents just did it wrong. But something we want to shout from the rooftops is that our parents are symptomatic. Our stories differ in detail, but the common theme is conservative politics among Christian homeschool families who staunchly oppose birth control. Chris and Wendy Jeub may have sixteen kids, and have gotten their sixteen minutes of fame, but the point is not to tarnish their reputation and sink their facade. That is Dobby’s collateral damage, thank you. The point is that at its base, teaching children that your reality is the way things are, and silencing alternatives, is child abuse. Spanking and using negative reinforcement that traumatizes children is the same in the hands of well-meaning parents as it is in the hands of cruel narcissists. And to break a child’s will, ultimately, means to colonize that child and exploit them of their childhood and full development as a human being.

How could I have made such an about-face, after writing so passionately, only a few years ago, about my worship of the divine? Popular posts from back in the day included reflections on how Christians are attracted to the dark, Christianity is a call to a unique and epic life, my theories about the reason an all-powerful deity would have a sadomasochistic crucifixion fetish, and how to talk to god. I haven’t re-uploaded these for the simple reason that I am done with spreading false information that encourages believers in their belief. Not just because I no longer agree with it – such a frivolous reason that would be – but because I was actively participating in self-deception.

I wrote more about this back when I wrote the series “How a Logical Girl Talked Herself Into Fundamentalism.” But since that time, I’ve also lost my faith in God. And what a devastating process it was, to grieve the biggest thing in the whole universe as far as I knew. It was terrifying at first, to imagine a universe where I am alone in my thoughts, with no ultimate being, no ultimate creator.

I want to write more about how I came to understand that science makes more sense than the bible, and about many of the various topics I’ve brought up in this word-vomit of a post. For now, I want to talk about the time that god spoke to me, to finally answer the question I left open when I wrote Taking the Atheist Prayer Challenge on Neil Carter’s blog – what was God? What exactly was speaking to me?

And at last, I can say with confidence that it was nothing like a divine thing. Instead, it was the natural projection of an evolved animal mind that associated god with wonder, emotion, splendor, authority, shame, and everything I felt, because my feelings were supposed to be in harmony with it. But I never found that harmony. I dreamed of the future. I heard a voice that told me to say to people, “God said this to me.” I felt convicted to wash my family’s feet one Christmas Eve, before I would be kicked out, making the mistake of doing exactly as I was told – listening to god with all my heart.

And everything about that, every detail, can be explained with science. I am no expert, because I have almost no formal education, but I’ve been devouring wonders beyond any I knew while reality wore the guise of god. Neurology tells me that my complex trauma can be observed, predicted, and medicated. Psychology explains to me how I could Otherize myself and recognize the feeling of thinking as the whisperings of a being who was intimate with all of my thoughts. Astrophysics shows me that I am made of the dust of stars.

I wouldn’t rather it be this way. I sometimes wish there was some giant out there, holding us all together, caring when we feel pain. Yet, without question, it beats the cognitive dissonance of trying to explain why such a being wouldn’t intervene a little more.